About Me

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No Fixed Abode, Home Counties, United Kingdom
I’m a 60-year-old Aspergic gardening CAD-Monkey. Sardonic, cynical and with the political leanings of a social reformer, I’m also a toy and model figure collector, particularly interested in the history of plastics and plastic toys. Other interests are history, current affairs, modern art, and architecture, gardening and natural history. I love plain chocolate, fireworks and trees, but I don’t hug them, I do hug kittens. I hate ignorance, when it can be avoided, so I hate the 'educational' establishment and pity the millions they’ve failed with teaching-to-test and rote 'learning' and I hate the short-sighted stupidity of the entire ruling/industrial elite, with their planet destroying fascism and added “buy-one-get-one-free”. Likewise, I also have no time for fools and little time for the false crap we're all supposed to pretend we haven't noticed, or the games we're supposed to play. I will 'bite the hand that feeds', to remind it why it feeds.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

I is for I'm Not Showing-off. But....

...the fruits of my labour!

Raspberries, a rather disappointing crop of commercial strawberries, red currents, a little taste of true wild or Alpine strawberries and four tubs of a natural cross.

The failure of the commercials (Sovereign - I think) is in part down to a rodent who carried them all off and piled them up to rot  in a corner of the cloche while I was away, annoying as I've spent 3-odd years getting the ground elder and bind weed cleared and they had a superb crop on before they went red, still; they say you are supposed to give some of the harvest to nature!

The natural cross are extraordinary, they shuck beautifully without a piece of green coming away, neither does the shuck involve half the innards - like the Alpines. They are the most fantastic tasting strawberries I've ever tasted (with the possible exception of the large - 1cm or so - Alpines we used to harvest by the side of the road to Tuttlingen when we were kids!), and just popped-up on the drive-way about ten years ago, since when they have spread over a large patch.

They have a very short season; about two weeks, and bruise very easily, as they are very soft (another trait they've inherited from the Alpines), so need to be eaten the same day or jammed, but the jam is sublime. I have seen very similar crosses advertised in the plant catalogues, so I guess the current apparent climate change is to their benefit.

Given all the other interlopers I mentioned the other day, the more fruity things the better I say!

News, Views Etc...Horrible Histories

Due to the vagaries of the UK postal system the review samples I should have got two weeks ago only arrived for me to pick-up this last weekend, so while I have taken a few hurried shots I haven't sorted them out yet. However, hopefully I will post the article in the next day or two.

In the meantime, the Horrible Histories magazine, published by TCS/Immediate Media - which I keep hoping will carry the blind-bag figures, but so far; hasn't - have two paratroops and an old-school toy 'plane on the cover this week. The figures are a bit crap and the flyer has Horrible History roundels, but if you collect the parachuting figures (as I do) it's worth a punt.

Farmer Giles and his cousin with their square parachutes!

The magazine is also running a competition for the new tranche of Horrible History figure sets, including the 2nd series blind-bags, although Worlds Apart have told me they're not ready yet. Presumably they will be by the time the competition closes?

W is for WTF

We asked the Horticulture department to line-in the boundary on the cricket field, I say 'field' over 'pitch' as the grass is so long getting a ball out to the boundary can only be accomplished hitting-out with high balls, risking a catch!

They gave us a five-a-side football pitch running parallel with the wicket!

What can you do? If you don't laugh, you'll cry!!

And it's indelible!

Monday, July 8, 2013

P is for Pencil-thin...but Fat-legged!

These are currently very common on the roadside verges and in the hedgerows of this still remarkably green and relatively pleasant land. Watch the grass brown if this weather continues though! In a similar colour range to the Rose Chafer from bronze-greens through to grass-green, this is the Thick-legged (or Fat-legged) Flower Beetle (Oedemera nobilis), the leg thing being confined to the males.

These are the large daisy-type things - I don't know the name of - which line our verges and colonise waste ground, central reservations (medians) on motorways (highways/interstates) and the like, they look like Michaelmas daises but it's not Michaelmas!

These are all males and you can see where the name comes from, the upper section of the rear pair of legs are ballooned out.

Some more males, the other defining feature of these is the non-meeting of the wing casings, leaving a small section of the wings showing. One of the things I've noticed photographing beetles these last few weeks is how appallingly bad they all are at getting their wings back in order when they land, this species seems to have just given-up altogether!

The Females; these are all together more dowdy, less tapered toward the rear and lacking the fat legs of the male, still they can have a metallic sheen, it's just that I failed to get a decent shot. They also seem to make a better job vis-a-vis wing cases! Notice also that the one in the bottom-right image needed to take care - a very pale and quite well camouflaged spider was ever so slowly stalking her...

H is for Hey! You!...

 ...get off of my clo...er...Flower!

These are probably my favourite UK beetle, there is a small one which looks just like a little apple-green metal scarab I really like but I haven't seen any since I was about 11. This also looks like a scarab type but is in fact a chafer, the Rose Chafer (Cetonia Aurata) or Green Rose Chafer and Mum's garden is always good for one or two at this time of year, this year there were three over a couple of days...bargain!

These are very slow and measured in their movement but still appear clumsy and always remind me of Sloths! The one pictured above was the first, and this little plant (the name of which is unknown to me) was covered in insects on the day I took these and we will come back to it in the next few days.

Looks like a rose but it's actually a flowering shrub-current, they do very little damage to roses, eating a few holes in the odd petal or perhaps a whole petal if it's a particularly tender one, or if the chafer is particularly hungry! Mostly they seem to help themselves to the same pollen and nectar that the bees enjoy, hence the accidental encounter in the top image, I only saw it after I'd uploaded the photographs.

The apparent cracks in the wing cases are actually markings in a pale creamy-white and when they are on a rose leaf the camouflage effect is very good indeed, especially the older leaves which take on metallic hues with thin pale marks themselves.

As can be seen from these examples, they can vary from a quite uniform metallic green through to one I saw the other day (without a camera) that was almost totally bronze, like the size of the antlers on the stag beetles, I suspect it is about age, with the greener ones being younger, but that's just me and might be wholly inaccurate! It may be more like hair colour?

Sunday, July 7, 2013

V is for Vicious Varmint!

Although I've mostly been photographing beetles in the last few weeks, there are a few other interesting things to show over the next few days, and this F***er is one of them, it had me off a ladder and across the lawn (I was cutting the hedge at the time) like a much younger man, believe me!

And like the lily beetles in the previous post, I've seen more of these in the last five weeks than I have in the rest of my life. Another species that will exploit mans inability to stop himself ruining the environment. It is of course a Hornet (Vespa Crabro), or to give it it's full title the European Hornet.

It has another name, due to it's having colonised somewhere else long before it took to crossing the channel...in 1840 it joined the exodus to the new world and landed in New York, in America it is also called the Bell Hornet. This particular specimen was over an inch long and hummed like an expensive miniature helicopter from Maplins! Looks like a wasp, but really, very, absolutely isn't one.

"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door, oh, go on then...give me your vicious bad-tempered insects too"

When I was a kid you'd see one of these every four or five summers, blown over from France on a breeze and investigating the lack of mates in Hampshire. I believe if you lived on the coast you'd maybe see one or two a year, but in the last four years I've seen similar numbers and in the last few weeks dozens of them.

Now, it's probable that seeing so many means a nest nearby, but then they never used to nest here...at all...ever! And I've been seeing them in two unconnected geographical areas, so two nests? This is the trouble, all these 'super species' tend to be damaging due to the hardiness that is a prerequisite of their exploitative attributes (god this insect study has some big words in it!) and need to survive man. Lily beetles eat lilys, Chinese worts and weeds choke everything, mitten crabs and crayfish kill everything and these hornets will hit you like an shot-gun pellet - soon as look at you.

I shot one a few years ago on a friend's garden wall, it let me take a single photograph, and when it sensed me focusing a second - lifted off, turned to face me and made it quite clear I needed to give it some space...I'm sure they are disturbed by the electronic focusing signal, you notice a lot of insects react only when you start the focus? Even some caterpillars.

C is for Cruella

Which would be a good name for lipsticks of a certain shade! This little beauty is a wolf in sheep's clothing; the Red (or 'scarlet') Lily beetle, Lilioceris lilii and is not to be tolerated if you are a gardener. A foreign import, living in Surrey since 1939, but exploding across the country in recent years, it is one of those 'super species' who will benefit from the harm we have done and continue to do to the planet.

It is so shiny it's not easy to get a shot in focus, especially on the plant where the camera will select something near to focus on rather than the insect. Here it made a fatal mistake, usually they hide under the leaves or in the cruck of several leaves, this one went top-side and I had it, photographed it and dispatched it.

It would be nice to say "I regretfully killed it" or even 'grudgingly', but the fact is, pretty as they are, they are deadly to the lily, and will do massive damage, so they have to die...for the moment, eventually they will win as most lilys are smart hybrids or imports (the irony there being that the imports by/for the gardens of the rich of Surrey probably brought them here in the first place!), while there is evidence that non-hybrid 'specie' are - to some extent - resistant.

Killing them is however bitter-sweet, as the find/kill is satisfying, yet you know that like Canute, you are pissing in the wind, yet they are rather beautiful.

If you don't put a hand under them the instant you see them, they will fall to the floor on their backs and be very hard to find, this one didn't move for about five minutes. I've executed five this year for crimes against lilys and that's the worst year ever. Still; after they've stared in my court there is no recidivism...there are no juve-cubes for lily beetles - I am Dredd and I am the law!

Q is for Quiet Majesty

Not trying to score one-upmanship points against John of John's Toy Soldiers blog who had a really nice dark, blackish one visit his garage the other day, but rather that these have been flying for about 4 weeks now and along with various other beetles I've shot over May/June were due to star here.

Starting with the king of beetles the Stag or Lucanus Cervus, a now endangered species (like anything unconnected with Homo Sapiens but sharing a planet with him), although not that endangered if this years number are anything to gauge things by, I've seen dozens, but then I've been seeking them out!

The time to find them is twilight, that quiet period after sun-down when the light just slides away while you're busy doing something else, they sound like a clattering bunch of dry leaves in flight. This one is a typical male of mid years with reasonable sized 'antlers' (enlarged jaw mandibles).

This younger one (smaller antlers) was crashing around a hazelnut hedge like Arnie looking for Sarah Connor, but after a while he settled under a leaf. I have always found them here, year after year, and usually when I find one I can pop-up to the station car park and find a few more, but this year there weren't any, so I wandered back to shoot some more pictures of this one and found...

...this old boy with huge antlers flying round the same hedge (I assume there is a female somewhere near giving off a pheromone signal?), sadly the shots are not brilliant, these pocket digital 'instamatics' are fine for toy soldiers, family shots and even macro-work, but they struggle with decent landscapes, bright or very low light and anything buzzing around like Budgie the Half-cut Helicopter with a damaged rotor!

The previous three were all shot in Fleet, Hampshire, over the end of May/early June this one was on a path near Leatherhead, Surrey a week or so later (two weeks ago) and is a lovely polished mahogany colour with a fine pair of medium sized antlers, he could sense me and reared-up like an invertebrate cobra!

This was one of about six converging on an old oak tree, it was getting too dark to shoot them and most settled up in the crown, but this chap started climbing from the base. Again, I assume a female was silently calling them to the fight (they use the antlers to throw each other off the branch when they meet!), and I guess he'd lost a bout and couldn't be arsed to fly again!

The weird thing was, 20-odd hours later when we were finishing a knock-about cricket session (I survived about eight balls!) he was still in the same spot, he hadn't moved all day? But I didn't have the camera, so I couldn't get any natural-light shots.

Speaking of the females; I have shot them in the past at the station car park, but am not posting them as it was a year or so ago and i want to post the ones that I've seen in the last few weeks. They tend toward being much darker (darker even than the one in John's garage), some almost black, and have no antlers so they look like a different species, but are about the same length and the abdomen is pretty much the same as the male stags.

Back home last week and another one in [the] Nut Bush City Limits! Daedalus and aeronautical engineers have so much to learn from these before we kill the last of them (within about 50 years, globally?). They actually seem to use their wings to lower the air pressure under the wing casing and then use the cases as a hang-glider, steering and changing altitude with the wing-cases while the wings just flap away AFAP. The result - it has to be said - looks like a large bumble bee on a drug-trial!

In researching all the beetles I've seen over the last 4/6 weeks, I discovered that the Rhino (Oryctes nasicornis) beetle is also a native, I've never seen one but he has a single horn and looks like the miniaturised bastard-child of a rhinoceros and a mono-ceratops!

B is for Bridge

Bridges are good things, they ease our passage on any journey, whether to the shops or through life and carry us over obstacles; real or imagined. Here's one what I built in the woods the other day, Tesco's is now 15 minutes nearer and not one more car has been put on the roads.

When I joined the Army in 1984, my ambition was to be a Plant Op-Mech (Operator Mechanic) in the combat engineers, however; although I got technician grade on four of the joining tests (spelling, dominoes, logic puzzles and IQ thingies) I kept failing the [basic] maths paper, so the MOD would only offer me Infantry, Artillery and Pioneer Corps...

...now I knew from my Father that the peacetime Pioneer Corps spent most of their time digging latrines and making wooden floats for civic KAPE type events, and in wartime spent most of their time digging latrines, trenches and graves (sometimes probably using the same hole for all three in sequence!), so they were out, likewise the Artillery seemed to have to hump a lot of heavy kit about and then wait for counter-battery fire to ruin their day, so the Infantry it was.

I kept putting in for a driving cadre, and kept being promised the next one by company commanders who's Sgt. Major's had no intention of giving me the ammo I needed to apply for a transfer, so in the end I 'did my bit' and got out, pity as I think I'd have a made a half-reasonable engineer?

Yes...it's just a pile of logs!!!! Maybe it should have been the Pioneer Corps!